Health unit study on Blastomycosis due out next week

Medical professionals across the district could be one step closer to better understanding what impact a disease called Blastomycosis has had here when a case study on it is released next week by the Northwestern Health Unit.
The study was done under the direction of Bill Limerick, team leader for Healthy Environment at the health unit’s administrative head office in Kenora.
He was not available for comment but Ken Allan, infectious disease control team leader at the local health unit office, said the study was initiated earlier this summer after rising concerns from the public and area physicians about the prevalence of the disease.
An epidemiology student from the University of Toronto compiled the study during a six-week period spent tracking human involvement with Blastomycosis.
“Anecdotally-speaking, through the grapevine there was a lot of concern and the [health unit] agreed to take in a surveillance initiative to establish a case definition for Blastomycosis,” Allan noted.
“It is an interesting issue,” he added.
Yeast infection in the lungs can arise from inhalation of Blastomycosis, a white or tan mold found in moist soil. Construction or other activities that disturb the soil can release fungal spores into the air, where they are inhaled with dust.
Symptoms of Blastomycosis (the disease carries the same name as the mold) include sudden fever, cough, chest pain, weight loss, shortness of breath, and a general feeling of fatigue.
Direct contact with Blastomycosis through an open wound or puncture could produce a skin infection. But the disease cannot be transmitted between people, or from animals to humans.
Drs. Robert Algie of the Fort Frances Clinic and Philip Whatley of the Emo Clinic were aware of the case study but neither had encountered patients recently who exhibited symptoms.
“My last case was two years ago,” said Dr. Algie, noting incidents of Blastomycosis had been around for nearly 20 years.
“[Blastomycosis] is known to be endemic around the Great Lakes region–it always has been,” agreed Dr. Whatley. “The reason for the study was to see if there was actual increases [here].”
But both doctors also admitted diagnosing the disease can be difficult.
“[Blastomycosis] is non-specific and it’s easy to miss,” Dr. Whatley conceded, noting a medical report from the early 1980s suggested Blastomycosis had often been mistaken for tuberculosis.
“But in most cases, [Blastomycosis] is self-limited and goes away,” he added.
People more susceptible to the disease are those with chronic illnesses, diabetes, or a poor general level of nutrition, Dr. Algie noted.
Meanwhile, Allan said because fungal spores are found in the soil throughout Northern Ontario, it is impossible to avert all cases of Blastomycosis.
If you’re digging in the dirt, the health unit recommends you wear protective equipment, including work gloves, dust mask, proper footwear, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants.
Editor’s note: Information on Blastomycosis for this article was taken from a press release provided by the Northwestern Health Unit, which is available on its web site at www.nwhu.on.ca/blastomy.htm